Educator's Corner


Astronomy Courses Available on DVD

Astronomy can be used to introduce a wide range of subjects in science to students of all ages. After all, the focus of astronomy is the Universe and everything in it.

Teachers may use DVD copies of these courses to upgrade their qualifications or to become more comfortable in teaching astronomy.

For over 20 years we have delivered popular astronomy courses that introduce both the planets and the stars to non-science University students. These courses were recorded and broadcast by Carleton University TeleVision (CUTV) and distributed to registered students across North America, Europe and Asia. They are now available to teachers and the general public on DVDs.

Although this is the same material that was taught for a university credit, purchase of these DVDs can not be used for an academic credit. However, some school boards may permit them to be used for professional development. Each DVD has two 1.5 hour classes delivered in a lecture format with lots of slides. As you can see below, they cover a lot of territory!

Each course consists of 8 DVDs or approximately 25 hours. These DVDs may be purchased individually, or as a set. However since they are based on a university course, each class assumes the knowledge of previous lectures.

CONTACT US for both order and licence information.

Using Our Products

Products by Starlight Theatre have been designed with astronomy education in mind. This page describes how our products can be used in a classroom setting. This section will be continually expanded as ideas are submitted by users of Starlight Theatre educational materials. In this first edition, we will concentrate on the products:

  • Celestial Sphere Videotape,
  • Educator's Supplement, and
  • Colour Star Map.

    We will also comment on the use of our black & white Star Maps and our Map Pads.

    Some projects that use our Star Map Pads are presented here.

  • These products are complimentary. The Celestial Sphere videotape brings the night sky into the classroom as a dynamic vista. The Educator's Supplement contains background and in-depth information on other topics of introductory astronomy. It is written in very concise manner. Our Star Maps are static record of the night sky. They contain additional ideas for observing projects and is excellent for beginners who want to start an observing program.

    On this site we will explore the content of The Celestial Sphere and we will cover a number of projects you may try to help teach astronomy using Starlight Theatre's products.

    Planetary Astronomy

    Planetary astronomy is important in the Canadian Curriculum. Here are several very good and concise articles about some important aspects of the terrestrial planets.

    These talks were delivered to the Ottawa Centre of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada and these articles reside on their web site

    “If Venus is Earth's sister planet, why don't they look alike geologically”?
    Moon: Highlands, Lowlands & Lavas. (1 of 3)
    Moon: Beyond craters and basins. (2 of 3)
    Moon: The Two Faces of the Moon. (3 of 3)
    Mars: What do we really see in a telescope? (1 of 3)
    Mars: How much do we understand? (2 of 3)
    Mars: Water, Environment and Life. (3 of 3)

    Why Use a Videotape?

    Observing Project Ideas

    The Celestial Sphere as the Sky

    We would like to take our students out under a dark clear sky, guide them around the celestial sphere, let them see the apparent drift of the sky above us. But family commitments in the evenings and poor weather make this idea impractical for most students. That is why The Celestial Sphere was created. We can show our students the sky at any time the class schedule permits.

    There are several benefits to using the videotape in addition to viewing a clear dark sky. With the VCR, we can control what the students see and learn. We also control when we want to cover a topic. The simple VCR controls allow us and the students to review some of the more difficult concepts.

    Polaris and Dipper

    Few stars can be seen from an urban location. This makes constellation studies frustrating and not much fun. The videotape shows just enough stars for the constellations to be prominent and interesting for students. The constellations are in their proper position with respect to each other and their scales are all the same. The images on the videotape are a record of the whole visible from north temperate latitudes. So, you will not need a slide tray full of images. Besides, constellation slides are usually copies that are several generations removed from the original. So, they do not represent the sky as it really appears.

    Teachers can pause the videotape to show any part of the sky of interest. But, what parts of the sky are interesting?

    Most of the interesting features of the celestial sphere are subtle. The Celestial Sphere records this texture of the sky. As shown in the left image, the faint Milky Way to the east of Orion is quite different from what we see in the Summer on the right.

    Winter Milky Way Summer Milky Way

    Trace the sky as seen on the TV.
    - Pause the videotape.
    - using a clear plastic sheet, trace the bright stars

    What is that faint fuzzy?
    - refer to star map
    - refer to Starry Night
    - Internet research

    The narrator is the helpful guide to the constellations and bright stars. So, you do not have to be an expert stargazer. Whether pointing out a bright star, a prominent constellation or telling a bit of sky lore, he is indispensable. The narrator is like some one you may meet at a star gazing party. Knowledgeable and with a clear friendly voice, he points out the important aspects of the sky. The graphic overlays help by adding substance to the fainter constellations.

    Winter, Southern Horizon Spring, Northern 

    Our Place in Space

    It is important that we recognise several perspectives when we think about our place in space. The videotape contains excellent simulations and graphics that provide an excellent "feel" for our position.

    At 2:40 into the tape, we see the Earth rotating among the stars. It is a fairly accurate representation of what the Earth would look like from about 1/10 the distance to the Moon. The continents are obscured by atmospheric haze and cloud. Only the arrow indicating our view direction shows us our location on the planet.

    Moving ahead to 5:25 into the tape we take a longer view. This time we see our planet orbiting the Sun. Here we must mention that the size of the Earth has been exaggerated for clarity. To be in true scale it would appear as a relatively bright "star" swinging around the Sun.

    The last perspective is shown about 6:25 from the beginning of the tape. We see the bulge of our galaxy as it appears above our southern horizon in the summer. The affects of obscuring interstellar dust are apparent. The plane of our Milky Way is marked rising at a steep angle above our horizon. The hazy band of the Milky Way is the equatorial plane of our Galaxy.

    A view of a spiral galaxy fades in. It shows a galaxy that appears similar to our Milky Way. Our Sun could not be detected on such an image of a galaxy. It would be much too faint.

    Studying our summer Milky Way more closely with a star map in hand, we see that the ecliptic (the plane of our solar system) is approximately horizontal to our horizon at the time the image was taken. So, the inclination of our solar system (as represented by the orbit of our Earth) is tilted quite a bit to plane of our Milky Way. This has little scientific significance but it does increase our appreciation that there is no real "up" in space.


    Earth's Orbit

    Summer Milky Way Galaxy

    Diurnal Motion

    Understanding the diurnal motion of the Earth begins with the motion of the Sun across our sky: rising in the east and setting in the west.

    Observing Project 1


    Many students have preconceived notions about how the Sun moves across our sky. Some believe it moves in a straight line. Others believe it moves vertically from the eastern horizon then horizontally across the sky, then vertically down to the western horizon. To improve their understanding of motions of the Sun a simple experiment can be performed.

    Students may sketch their southern horizon and each hour estimate where the Sun is above their horizon. This is easiest in the fall, winter and spring because the Sun is lower in the sky at noon and estimates of its position and altitude above the horizon are more accurate than when it is high in the summer sky.

    Students will discover that the Sun's path is actually curved. It's path can be described as a "great circle" across the celestial sphere. This information will prepare them for a deeper understanding of the motions of the "celestial sphere".

    The videotape shows these motions. However, instead of the Sun, we can use the stars. The stars are also seen rotating around the celestial poles. This motion can be extended away from the poles by looking farther to the east and west. The curvature of their paths becomes apparent. The curved paths of the stars can be clearly seen above the eastern and western horizons by drawing a straight line on the television monitor.

    North of the east and west points on the horizon, the curvature is towards the north celestial pole. South of these points the curvature is toward the south celestial pole. The stars rising due east and west appear to move in straight lines close to the horizons. Further from the horizon, lens geometry distort the path so that it too will start to curve toward the north celestial pole.

    Observing Project 2


    Monitoring the movement of the Sun across our sky is easily recorded by using the shadow it casts. In the school yard, put a stick in level ground or use an existing fence post. Measure its height above the ground. Before class in the morning record where the end of its shadow with respect to the bass of the stick

    An important aspect of this project, and indeed any observing project, is the list of possible errors that will affect the results. For senior students, study the set-up and note all the sources of significant error: height of stick, angle of the stick, slope of the ground, distance and direction of the shadow's end from the base of the stick, the top of the stick may not be sharp, etc.

    Our understanding is improved when we are able to understand these motions by the rotation of the Earth, and not the sky. The animation of the rotating Earth clearly shows how we can easily understand the diurnal motion of the Sun and our night sky. However, without an appreciation of inertia and gravity, this difference is difficult to accept. Indeed, the notion that the Earth moved was only appreciated 400 years ago with the work of Galileo (inertia), Kepler (orbits) and Newton (gravity).

    The stars that we can expect to see each clear night can be previewed on the star map. During most of the school year, we set our watches to local "standard time". Only in the late spring and early autumn do most people use daylight saving time. The instructions on the top and bottom left corner of the rectangular map explain how to use the map. For standard time, we use the bottom scale. Place your hand over the star map above current date. Your hand covers the stars that are visible that evening at 8 p.m. standard time. Each hour after 8 p.m., shift your hand to the left one-hour (see the hour scale above the date scale). This hourly drift of the stars from left to right is caused by the diurnal rotation of our earth.

    Movement of stars

    - Pause videotape
    - trace the stars on the screen
    - advance film about 2 second (1/30 of 1 rotation on the videotape)
    - use a star map to determine the spacing of the stars
    - use these dimensions to calibrate the size of the field of view
    - how far to stars move in 1/30 of a day

    The Northern and Southern Centres of the Sky

    - place a transparent overlay on the television screen
    - mark the place of Polaris and hold the plastic in place
    - trace the path of a star as it revolves around Polaris
    - remove the plastic from the TV screen and return to a desk
    - use a compass to find the best centre for the arc left by the star
    - is the arc exactly at the position of Polaris?
    - how far from Polaris is the centre?

    - repeat this for the southern celestial pole
    - is there a corresponding south polar star?

    Polar star arcs

    - how far must the celestial sphere rotate for the Big dipper to take the position of Cassiopeia?
    - measure that part of a circle between the Big Dipper and Cassiopeia
    - ratio this angle with 360 deg. = 24 hours

    Earth's Diurnal Motion


    Most people generally accept the concept of a moving Earth. However, appreciating its motion around the Sun and its consequences are well presented in the computer animation of the Earth in its orbit. Since the Earth moves 1/365.25 around the Sun each day, the appearance of the stars in our sky must change accordingly. The arrow in the animation is the direction of an observer's view looking towards their southern horizon.

    Each scene has subtle details for the careful eye. You can see the winter Milky Way behind the Sun. This shows the orientation of the Earth's orbital plane (the ecliptic plane) and the plane of our Galaxy.

    Earth's Orbit

    Annual Motion


    By repeating the solar observations every month, we discover another fact about the Sun's path. Its point of rising and setting moves farther towards the south as autumn passes. When they return from their December holidays, it will be moving towards the north. Thus the Sun's path depends on the seasons.

    It can also be brought to their attention that the length of time the Sun is above the horizon also depends on the season. A correlation can be discovered between the length of the Sun's path and the length of time it is above the horizon. A further observation may follow: the shorter the path, the cooler the weather.

    Do not expect a very close correlation between the lengths of time the Sun is above the horizon and temperature. Our daily temperature is sensitive to weather systems. However, the general trend of winters cooler than autumn and spring will be sufficient.

    The Celestial Sphere videotape may carry this notion further. By forwarding the tape to the last 6 minutes, the length of time the stars are above the horizon can be measured. By looking either due east or west, the direction east and west respectively are in the centre of the screen. These are the points the Sun will rise above (and set below) the horizon on the first day of spring and autumn.

    Stars to the right of the eastern point will take less time to cross the sky and set. Indeed on the first day of winter, the Sun will rise on the right side of the frame. Stars closer to the North celestial pole will take longer to cross our sky and set. This correlates with the Sun's motion.

    The stars we see in late evening change with the seasons. Stars that were once visible in the evening after the Sun has set, are lost in the glare of the Sun. Weekly observations of the stars first visible after twilight fades will show the slow drift of stars into the Sun's evening glare.

    The animation of the Earth's orbit around the Sun clearing shows what is really happening. The Earth moves around the Sun allowing use to view the stars on the other side as we loose the sight of stars we saw earlier in the season.

    The star map can help use too. Remember the stars we saw at 8 p.m.? At a later date, the stars are different at 8 p.m.. They are located to the left of those we viewed before. They have drifted four minutes per day or one degree around our sky for each day. This slow drift is caused by the orbit of our Earth around the Sun.

    Co-ordinate Systems


    The co-ordinate system we use to navigate across the sky is easily understood with the animations in the film. Textbooks and slides can show pictures and graphics, but this film turns a static concept in to a dynamic, and frankly, an obvious machine. The diurnal (daily) rotation of the Earth becomes obvious when we see the Earth rotate under the sky, with the direction of an observer's view indicated by an arrow.

    The angle of the Earth's axis is correctly oriented to the star field. The arrow representing the observer's direction of view is angled towards their southern horizon.

     Sun Set  Mid Night

    The videotape can be used to show many aspects of the celestial sphere. The program has five sections:

    - Introduction,
    - Annual and Diurnal Motions,
    - Constellation sand Star Names,
    - Deep Sky Objects, and
    - Other Phenomena (comets, meteors, aurora and a solar eclipse).

    The videotape is rather long for some classes. And, the tape covers more than one item in some lesson plans. Therefore, the tape may be used for several separate lessons. The Educator's Supplement describes these sections and has the "time code" from the first scene of the tape so that the tape may be fast forwarded to the section of interest. Thus the tape may be used to compliment several lessons on astronomy.

    Diurnal and Annual Motions

    Section 2 on diurnal and annual motions of the sky is critical to the understanding of the Earth's rotation and its revolution around the Sun. The animations in the videotape make these motions and their impact upon what we see in the sky more obvious than verbal descriptions or pictures in a book.


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